Monday, September 27, 2010
On this date in 1991, the very first NHL exhibition to take place outdoors was held when the Los Angeles Kings faced off against the New York Rangers in a parking lot at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada.
"We were a little bit in awe and I'm sure [the Rangers] were too," said Wayne Gretzky. "We kept looking at each other and couldn't believe we were playing hockey in 80º weather, but it was real nice."
Gretzky spars with Adam Graves, wearing #11 in honor of Mark Messier
Three huge refrigeration units, three times the normal ice making capacity for a normal game, were brought in at a cost of $135,000. Insulation boards coated with a vapor barrier were laid down first, then covered with sand to form a base for 22 miles of refrigeration tubes, which carried the super-cooled methanol and water solution to freeze the ice. The process began on Tuesday to be read in time for testing on Thursday night.
The heat did cause some issues with the ice, as a tarp had been erected roughly seven feet over the ice to keep the sun's rays from directly shining on the playing surface. That was all well and good, but when the tarp was being removed, it, and some cables, came in contact with the ice. Since the tarp had been heated up by the sun, some huge gouges were melted into the ice, which required some repairs before the players could take to the ice later on.
Aside from the heat, the only other weather related problem was rain on Friday afternoon which turned the rink into a lake, but the refrigeration system and a Zamboni quickly had the ice back into playing shape in short order.
The main technical problem was that the refrigeration system actually made the ice too cold, causing the ice to crack. This was detected early enough for the technicians to react and raise the temperature of the ice enough to alleviate the problem.
Another issue never before seen on NHL ice were giant grasshoppers that would land on the ice during the game and freeze in place! "They would land on the ice and freeze right there, so by the end of the second period they were everywhere on the ice and it was kind of funny," recalled Kings forward Luc Robitaille.
Kings broadcaster Jim Fox remembers, "If you looked directly down you would see hundreds of bugs. The bugs had fallern and either died or drowned from the water that was being put on the ice. So that was the weirdest part of that game and I think most everyone remembers that."
Gretzky was of course the featured attraction and did not disappoint, scoring a goal in the Kings 5-2 win played in front of 13,000 fans, who paid between $20 to $75, in temperatures in the mid 80's.
The idea for the came three years earlier from Rich Rose, president of Caesars World Sports. "When I went to [my bosses] with the idea, the only thing they said was, 'Can it be done?'Around here, the don't say, 'No.' They say, 'Yes, find a way to make it happen.' "
Having already staged ice skating in late spring of 1988 in 108º heat, Rose was confident the hockey game would work. "I went to the NHL," he said, "and once they got over the shock and asked me if I really wanted to do this, they gave their approval."
Rose then contacted the Kings owner Bruce McNall about bringing Gretzky and the Kings to Las Vegas, and McNall was all for it.
Bob May of Ice Systems of America was given the task of creating the rink, having installed 151 permanent and 14 temporary rinks, but never anything quite like the one in Las Vegas. "This was a big challege," he said as he watched the finishing touches being applied to the rink with a smile.
Ironically, another exhibition game scheduled for indoors at the Florida Suncoast Dome between the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins had to be cancelled because the ice inside was too soft.
Today's featured jersey is a 1991-92 Los Angeles Kings Wayne Gretzky jersey as worn in the outdoor exhibition game in Las Vegas. The Kings were actually wearing their 1990-91 jerseys in this game, for after the exhibition schedule was completed, the Kings would debut brand new jerseys with three color names and numbers along with the addition of the Kings 25th Anniversary patch as well as the NHL 75th Anniversary patch for the regular season.
It would be the only season with this exact combination, as the Kings would adopt one color names for the remainder of the life of this jersey style in 1992-93, as well as changing the silver names and numbers to a much more readable black.
Here's some fisticuffs from the game as Caesar's Palace. Rumor has it there were also some goals scored that night.
The outdoor hockey game was not the only unusual event at Caesar's Palace, as Evel Knievel wadded himself into a little ball trying to jump the fountains in front of the complex. The fountains were later tamed by Evel's son Robbie.